By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
Although classic oldies always sound timeless, anything involving a teen idol ages worse than cheese on a sunny sidewalk. A Partridge Family Christmas Card went gold upon its release in 1971, but slipped into thrift-store oblivion once the TV show was canceled and David Cassidy fans moved on to Elton and Alice. Razor & Tie resurrected this campy artifact on compact disc last year, complete with snotty new liner notes by Danny Bonaduce, harpsichords on just about every song and enough "bah bah bah" backgrounds vocals to out-Bah! Humbug! any Scrooge.
Although not as cringe-worthy as the Brady Bunch's holiday offering that same year, Christmas Card fares badly on some of its up-tempo numbers. Fans of the family will note that Shirley Jones, despite her star billing, never took a lead vocal on any other Partridge recording. Here, she gets four! Because of this drastic change in policy, poor Keith doesn't get to give "The Christmas Song" his breathy delivery. No matter. He makes up for it by warming up "Frosty the Snowman" like it's some torchy ballad, like the new girl at school threw him over for a jock. "White Christmas" gets a contemporary treatment, which for 1971 means something … la Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'." However, "Winter Wonderland" sports the creepiest string arrangement since "Ode to Billie Joe."
Speaking of singing TV stars, here's a strange one from 1959: We Wish You a Merry Christmas, which boasts "15 great Christmas favorites sung by Warner Bros. stars."
Perhaps one of the reasons renegade TV actor James Garner, then-star of Maverick, was so eager to break his Warner's contract was so he'd be spared the humiliation of having to warble alongside Poncie Ponce, Bob Conrad, Connie Stevens, Dorothy Provine, Roger Moore, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Ed "Kookie" Byrnes. Efrem Z's singing voice sounds like Jim Nabors, and Roger Moore wisely cops out by reciting "Once in Royal David's City." Everything here is pretty much "Snoresville" except for Edward Byrnes bopping his way through "Yulesville" ("'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad/Not a hepcat was swinging/And that's nowhere, dad/The stove was hung up on that stocking routine/Like maybe that fat man would make the scene!"). Ever mindful of sponsors, the Xmas-spirited Warner's people make certain to credit "Packages on Cover Wrapped in Reynolds Aluminum Foil!"
Even if some Christmas albums turn out to be bland, they can still serve as passable background music for opening presents. But you'll know you've crossed that fine line between audio wallpaper and noxious irritant when, midway through unwrapping a gift, someone stands up and screams, "For the love of baby Jesus, please take this shit off!"
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's Once Upon a Christmas from 1984 is just such an album. And it's really all Dolly's fault. Her usually lovely voice takes on a sick, otherworldly sound here, as if too much holiday cheer caused her to sound like the Muppet Babies magnified ten million times. Maybe Liberty Records, Rogers' label and onetime home of the Chipmunks, was grooming Kenny to be the next Dave Seville. If you have trouble getting rid of those last few hangers-on at your Christmas party, a few blasts from this one should have them scrambling for the door.
What with punk making such a strong comeback in '94, perhaps the Yobs Christmas Album will get its due and put the "oi" back into "Joy to the World." This 1979 set--actually the work of British power punkers the Boys--contains irreverent, aggressively filthy rereadings of Yuletime standards, as well as a few spot-on originals.
Check out "The Ballad of the Warrington," where two drunken sods try to reach the nearest pub before last call. ("Christ, my balls feel like they froze/And there's numbness in my toes/And it's only 80 yards to the Warrington"). Fans of Bad Religion's current punky bruising of "Silent Night" ought to hear the Yobs' far more offensive earlier attempt--it's sung in German and has Adolf Hitler sound bites running through it. This album features the only instance where "The Twelve Days of Christmas" isn't insufferably long. It helps that the Yobs' true love brings to them a myriad of tacky, tasteless presents, ranging from the "eight wankers wanking" and "five fuc-kin' whores!" to "two blowup dolls and uh vibrator wit' uh battery!" Incidentally, each time the "five fuc-kin' whores!" part comes up and slows down the whole song, someone always screams out 1-2-3-4! and brings the song back up to speed.
The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet is commonly considered the greatest bar band in the world, and since some of you may prefer to spend every holiday on a stool sipping ale, hearing NRBQ's Christmas Wish EP should make you feel right at home. Although eight songs are listed, there's only one that lasts more than a minute and a half, the Joey Spampinato-penned title song, which sounds like some lost gem from Pet Sounds. Played on toy instruments, that is.
Maybe you want an album that tells a story about the true meaning of this season. You know, department-store Santas smuggling top-secret weapons, supernovas trying to pass themselves off as North Stars and, of course, demented elves trying to take over the world.